Dubbed Seiken Densetsu 3 in Japan, Trials of Mana is the modern remake of a beloved 1995 Square Enix JRPG that never saw a retail release in the west. This reimagining takes the classic Secret of Mana formula and modernises almost every aspect, reinvigorating the franchises that has laid dormant for so many years. Trials of Mana achieves this in so many ways and yet to our dismay, not all of its outdated foibles seem to have been addressed.
Disclaimer: As we didn’t receive the review code until the day of release, this review is still in progress and is based on approximately 25 hours of gameplay. We will continue to update this review, making it subject to change if our thoughts and opinions alter throughout the course of our playthrough.
A remake is one thing, but Trials of Mana takes on a whole new perspective of this Super Famicom RPG classic. This remake takes on a more traditional 3D viewpoint with 360° camera movement, with the combat having a dynamic Action-RPG approach. As is to be expected, Trials of Mana on Nintendo Switch caters more to the modern gaming era as opposed to the original Seiken Densetsu 3‘s more rigid gameplay structure.
Initiating battles are streamlined in a way that allows you to engage combat with enemies without any loading. You can spot enemies from a distance, allowing you to avoid or engage in a tactical way, however they will always notice you when you’re a few metres away from them, even if you attempt to sneak up from behind. What you see out there in the world is what you get. From this, the world feels so much more alive and believable, making it a wonderful adventure to set out on, but limiting the AI’s detection could have provided some further gameplay variety.
Combat is incredibly fun and intuitive, to the point where I’d always be excited for the next battle. With the Mana series being known for its real-time combat, it greatly benefits from being fully realised in a 3D world. First off, the third dimension adds a jump command, allowing enemies to have unique tactics in regards to depth. There is also the ability to dodge, block, perform quick attacks and strong attacks that can be charged up to deal extra damage and Class Strikes that use up CS Points and deal tremendous amounts of damage. Managing your inventory and special moves are easy with the ring wheel and with four shortcut buttons on both the L and R bumpers for items and special moves respectively; you can also customise each character to your heart’s desire.
To inspire you to approach each fight with thought and strategy, you’ll gain bonus exp if you defeat an enemy under certain circumstances, such as defeating them in under x seconds or winning a battle without taking damage. I found myself wanting to actively try my hardest in every battle in order to gain the most amount of exp as possible and not grind in the latter portion of the game like most JRPGs.
The boss fights are very creative and can clearly be seen how their origins stem from the 16 bit era. Each fight requires every aspect of the game’s mechanics; whether that be attack combos, healing strategies, knowing each party members strengths and weaknesses and becoming familiar with the boss’s attack patterns. Each action-adventure game needs great boss fights, and Trials of Mana has a lot of them, each one more creative than the last.
For almost the entire game, I was completely glitch-free; that was until one of the last bosses where upon defeating them, the game didn’t cue over into the next scene and I was stuck with that boss continuing to attack, doing no damage and myself standing there, not able to proceed. Glitches can happen and this will hopefully be patched in a future update but at the time of this review, it left a horribly bitter taste in my mouth.
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My main complaint with Trials of Mana would simply come down to quality of life issues. Sticking true to a game’s traditions can work for the sake of nostalgia, but having to go back to the last statue that you encountered just so you can save is quite tiresome by modern standards. In addition, in order to change anything in the options menu, the game advises that saving the changes will pull you back out to the main menu and that all unsaved data will be lost. They’re minor complaints in the grand scheme of it, but complaints nonetheless.
As previously mentioned under Gameplay, the full 360° camera movement does a lot to change to core dynamic of the game. With the original having the world from a set topdown perspective, the world feels much more alive and populated, providing the player with an expansive world to explore and find hidden secrets in.
On the downside however, you will find yourself simply running from one marker to the next for majority of the game. Whilst linearity isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it works with the game’s layout, Trials of Mana has a grand world and limiting your progression to go here and go there destroys that illusion. The only upside to this is that there are a lot of optional pathways with hidden items to collect, but that doesn’t excuse the linearity entirely.
Trials of Mana is quick to get you into the story and doesn’t hold you back too much in terms of a prologue tutorial. There is a fight and a half (you’ll understand when you play it) before you leave the starting castle, a little bit of exploration to get a grip on the controls, a few castles and voilà, you are out in the world fending for yourself.
When you find your two party members that you choose at the start of the game, it is optional to go through their backstories. Nothing ties over and it’s purely for character building purposes, so providing the option to skip it is a nice touch. That being said, I would highly recommend that you do play through these segments as they provide great character-building for the remainder of the game.
The plot itself is quite cliche, to be frank; the world is out of balance, you heroes need to go on a grand adventure to rescue element faeries and restore balance to the eight elements. There are some twists and turns along the way, but it’ll all go down as relatively unmemorable. The pace also feels off, with the game not stating, nor making it clear, when one chapter ends and another begins. This makes the game’s plot progression feel like one big mesh of plot arcs, lacking coherency and structure. Granted, there are a few twists and turns along the way, and some side stories can be a little touching, but it’s certainly nothing to get excited about.
Speaking of off pacing, Chapter Five certainly made the plot grind to a dramatic halt as you’re then tasked with defeating eight bosses in different areas on the map in any order. Whilst I certainly praised the game’s boss battles and I’d do so again, after six of them, I almost forgot why I was hunting these bosses down in the first place, if it weren’t for Faerie reminding me in her annoyingly high-pitched voice.
Graphics / Art Direction
Reimagining a 16-bit game into a modern 3D action game is always going to be a significant undertaking and Square Enix has done an impressive job, despite the character models sometimes coming across as stiff. On top of that, sometimes a character’s physical demeanour doesn’t translate well to what they’re saying, leaving tense moments feeling awkward and lacklustre.
That all being said, each object and model has black outlining that makes them standout more so than ever. I’ve always been fond of this artistic approach as not only does it make each model distinguishable, it’s also a clever stylistic choice.
Whilst Trials of Mana does a competent job with draw distances and seeing enemies from far away, the game’s textures often take a second or two to load when entering a new area or even during cutscenes. You’ll know what I mean when you start playing, it’s not pretty.
Music / Sound Design
Trials of Mana‘s soundtrack is lively and colourful, much like what you’d expect from a Square Enix (SquareSoft) game that was initially released on the Super Famicom. Another charming addition is that you can switch between the remake audio and the classic from the original; I went with the remake, but having the option is a nice touch.
The voice acting is surprisingly well done, despite the occasional awkwardly-timed delivery. The entire game isn’t voice acted, rather the characters only speak during in-game cutscenes and are a nice treat when you get up to each one. You can also change between English and Japanese voice acting so for all you traditional anime-enthusiasts (myself included), you’re in for a treat.
Final Score: 78%
Trials of Mana is a great recreation of a 16 bit classic JRPG, even if it is, at times, a little too faithful. The story is somewhat lackluster and the Switch version suffers here and there with texture rendering, but it’s a solid entry that still runs well. Having the pixelated sprite-based world reimagined in a grand 3D world allows fans to see the game as they had always imagined it in their heads and if it’s your first time playing this game, it’s a great entry to start with.
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